On a sunny day in September I happened to walk past a middle aged woman wearing a flimsy, white dress doing what I can only describe as some sort of interpretive dance. She was twisting and twirling her body, waving her hands to no music and for apparently no money in front of the Palacio Real – one of the busiest places in central Madrid. At the time my only reaction was to raise my eyebrows and think “what a nutcase”. Since the day I arrived in Madrid back in September I have been continuously amused by the bizarre antics of some of its citizens. There seems to be a curious attitude of “why not?” that until recently I haven’t been able to explain.
One of my favourite ways to spend a Saturday afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter as I’m a student, is to stroll through the streets of a district called Malasaña. It’s full of little boutiques, coffee shops with miss-matched lampshades and alternative book stores. There is also a noticeable absence of mainstream retailers. For me it is the only place in Madrid where I feel like I am truly in another world. I’m drawn to the thin cobbled streets with carved balconies peering over them. I don’t buy anything, just absorb the atmosphere, only stopping to sip the free samples in my favourite tea shop. As I head deeper into the district where it merges into another called Chueca, a slightly more sinister feeling takes over. Perhaps it’s the English prude in me. Punk rock shops divided by brick walls covered in pornographic posters advertising gay club nights become more frequent and provocatively named establishments such as the “Will you go to bed with me?” hotel come into view. Malasaña – its quaint and crude aspects – has intrigued me, like the dancing lady, for three months and it is only now that I realise why it is the way it is.
When Francisco Franco died in 1975, Madrid, like a teenager left without parental supervision, rebelled against tradition and structure. The ability to really push the boundaries for the first time in thirty-five years ignited an unrelenting excitement within the capital. The movement was to be known as just that; La Movida Madrileña. Madrid explored the limits on sexuality, drugs and aesthetics and began churning out a stream of new wave-influenced music, modernistic and extravagant design and Warhol-inspired films – thin on the storyline but full of excess and eccentric characters. Pedro Almodóvar made his début as film director turned “agent provocateur” during this time. His first feature film, Pepi, Luci, Bom, with its outrageous humor, and open sexuality encapsulated the spirit of the Movida; showing 1980s Madrid to be wild, frivolous, adventurous and free from the social taboos so associated with Francoism.
And where was the main hub of all this creativity and excitement? My favourite place in Madrid. Having long fancied myself as a bit of a bohemian, perhaps the echo of what once happened is what draws me to Malasaña most afternoons. “Movidas” occurred all over Spain and Europe during this time yet the unparalleled cosmopolitanism of Madrileños meant that the word “Movida” was consistently associated with La Movida Madrileña. Adventurous television shows, films, music and the general cultural output of the Movida boldly challenged the status quo and went far beyond the mere imitation of foreign musical and cultural movements.
The Movida gained widespread support from many, even the government, as a clear break from the oppression of Franco’s regime. Yet Spanish traditionalism was not going to be eradicated that easily. The radical statements of television shows such as La Bola de Cristal and La Edad de Oro led to their eventual demise and the eighties broadcast of ‘Me gusta ser una zorra’ (I want to be a slut) by an all-girl punk band sparked huge political protest and media frenzy.
Sadly there is not a real wealth of artistic or cultural legacy left from the Movida Madrileña and, like all fashions the movement slowly burnt out. What is left, however, is Malasaña and the wonderful (sometimes weird) attitude of “why not?”.